Chapter 23

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My heart was pounding in my chest so fast that I thought it might jump out. We had all been lifted up and thrown by the blast and every inch of my body was scratched from the impact of the fall. To my left, Hayley was trying her very best to get up from the ground but her body was too weak; too tired. To my right, Megan had gotten up and was looking at me in confusion. I guessed she was mad at me about not telling her about the bomb. Probably also for getting her into this mess.

I sighed and gave up. Too weak to want to deal with all of this right now. I wondered if Pete--- 

Pete?! Where's Pete?! And Jake?!

I looked around me, they were nowhere to be found. I lifted my eyes up in case they were in the trees, but immediately that thought seemed silly as I knew they weren't there.

The last i remember was them running out of the house right behind us. Or were they? Suddenly I realised they might have never left the house; or atleast not in time. I just remember me, Hayley and Megan running out, I never saw them running. Maybe they didn't get out of the house in time?

I immediately pushed that thought out of my mind. They HAD to have made it! I thought convincing myself.

"Pete?! Jake?!" I yelled out. Megan and Hayley caught my eye, they then also realised that the guys were missing.

No one answered.

"PETE!!" I yelled out again, but as the silence continued my heart sank every second after he should have answered.

It can't be. He had to be alive.

I started running back towards the house, but Megan stopped me and pointed up to the sky. I expected to see the blue sky and the high trees but instead I saw a dark grey cloud of smoke covering the air. Not just the sky, but I realised that the smoke was very thick around us as well, and I hadn't even realised.

"Look at me, Tess. You are not going closer to that house than this, understand?" Megan looked deep into my eyes as she told me with a stern voice, "he's gone."

Her last two words felt like a knife being plunged into my heart. I fell to the ground on my knees in denial. Megan's light blue eyes were still on me, I could feel it, even though my eyes were staring at the ground in front of me.

She kneeled down beside me and rested her forehead on my shoulder. "As we left the house I saw them still staring at the time as it counted down. I yelled for them to come but they were in shock. I clouldn't get myself to turn around and grab them. You know you could tell someone as much as you wish that you would risk your own life for them, but when it comes down to it, we are all too scared for our own safety."

I looked at Megan. I knew she was beating herself up for not going after them.  

I tried to imagine myself in her position. If she told either me or Hayley, we would have gone back for them because we have a personal connection with them. But she knew that if we went back, none of us would have made it. Though I knew that if that was either me or Hayley back there, she would not have thought twice before going back for us. She would never do anything to put our lives in danger, and if she was the only one who could have survived, she would rather die with her best friends than having to live with their deaths. "they would have wanted you girls to be safe rather than riskig your own lives for them." she said looking at the ground. 

She made that decision on the spot. I did not know whether she would have made a different decision if she had more time to think, but she certainly knew what was best for her best friends.

Hayley was off to the one side, facing away from us. I knew she was crying. I got up and walked over towards her. Without needing to say a word, we wept in each others arms.

Megan came up to us and put her arms around us, she kept apologising. We understood, however. We always understood her decisions.

After a while of us just standing there, in pain and relief of finally finding Megan, we finally pulled ourselves together and tried to think clearly. My heart wanted to go back to the house and find Pete, because I would not accept that he's gone, but my mind was telling me to deal with to and get my best friends to safety.

"i need to know for sure." Hayley said in a shaking voice. I knew what she was talking about, she needed to be sure he was gone before she could try and live with it.

It was hard believing that someone you had loved for so long has been taken from you in such a quick moment. One second they are with you and you think that things can never be better and the next they are gone and you are left to bear reality.

My phone, which I had completely forgotten about, buzzed in my pocket. Fury was welling up inside of me, the people on the other end if this text have killed my life-long friend and my best friend's boyfriend. I tried to calm myself down but I still felt hatred inside of me. How could someone do this to another?

I checked my phone which's screen was even more cracked by now.

THEY WERE TOO WEAK ANYWAY. WITH THEM OUT OF THE WAY YOU ARE GIVEN A CHANCE TOW ESCAPE. YOU HAVE EXACTLY THREE DAYS TO ESCAPE FROM THE FOREST, IF YOU MAKE IT YOU ARE FREE TO GO, IF NOT....

If not... If not what? I didn't want to imagine what that might mean.

All kinds of worst case scenarios popped into my head, I quickly shook them out of my head and tried to focus on what to do next.

Megan, who read the text over my shoulder, came up with the brilliant idea.

"wow they sure didn't give us a lot of time. Tess, can you think of which way might be the shortest way out of this forest?"

"I'm not too sure. I know for sure though that doesn't matter which way we go, we'll never make it out of here in three days." i said, swallowing hard on the truth.

Megan, always being the optimistic one, said' "Come on guys. Do you remember on hike in year eleven when we had to navigate on our own? And how you guys were determined that we'd never make it to the campsite before dark because we got lost in the bush and couldn't figure out where we were on the map? And how I said that you had to listen to me and then we made it? Yeah, if we could do it when we were in year eleven, then I'm sure we can do it again."

She was right. Except, this was a completely different situation. If we did not make it on the hike we would have failed our grade, however if we don't make it this time, our grades would be the least of our worries.

For that same reason, I was not going to argue with Megan; she was always right, even though how wrong she sounds some times.

She grabbed a stick and started drawing in the sand. At first I thought she was just drawing a random picture but then i realised she was drawing a plan of how to get out of the forest. Hayley and I joined in as we went through possible ways we could go. We had a full 360 degrees directions we could go, one of these are the quickest, and we needed to figure out which one.

After about half an hour of coming up with nothing, Megan had the idea.

"There are only two ways we can go." she said with the look of certainty on her face.

Hayley and I weren't following. "Why's that?" we asked at the same time.

"Simple. Doesn't matter which way we go, it would be really hard to stay in that direction without a compass." she said, leaving it to us to figure it out.

"oh i get it!" Hayley said.

"Nope, still missing the point." I said confused.

"Always the slow one," Megan said teasingly, "we have to follow the lake."

"Oh yes of course, that is so what i thought you meant...." Hayley said awkwardly.

Megan and I laughed at her. "You're blond on the inside, love!" I said jokingly.

I loved my best friends. They always knew how to lighten the mood, no matter what the circumstances. But in the back of my mind I knew that we had a log and hard few days ahead of us.

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